Friends and Spectres


Presenting my latest cover illustration for Swan River Press, and another story collection edited by Robert Lloyd Parry:

Friends and Spectres is a companion volume to Ghosts of the Chit-Chat (2020), an anthology of ghost stories by authors who had been members of the Cambridge University Chit-Chat Club along with M. R. James. Here the associations with MRJ are less formal, but stronger and more enduring: for it is the bond of genuine friendship that ties these writers to him.

The majority of pieces here were originally published under pseudonyms, and over half appeared first in amateur magazines or local newspapers. All deal with the supernatural, and several of the stories are themselves spectres—or more properly “revenants”, only now re-emerging into the light after decades of oblivion. There are rediscoveries here of “lost” tales by Arthur Reed Ropes, E. G. Swain, and the enigmatic “B.”

My cover for the earlier volume showed an imaginary interior for one of the meetings of the Chit-Chat Club where James first read his own ghost stories. The new cover shows a more accurate exterior view of the grounds outside the King’s College Chapel. Given the quantity of pictorial reference I thought this might be relatively easy to do but I had a problem finding a view that matched the one I had in mind, a twilight view of the west end of the chapel seen front-on rather than at a sharp angle. Views of the chapel from the banks of the river have been standing as an emblem of the university itself for a very long time but the majority of these are angled views. My solution was to work from a collage of three different reference photos in order to have enough drawing to fill out the spread of the jacket.


Friends and Spectres is another of Swan River’s small hardbacks which in this case is limited to 500 copies. Given the following that Mr Parry has accumulated via his readings of James’ stories I imagine this one will go quickly, so anyone interested is advised to pre-order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Ghosts of the Chit-Chat

6 thoughts on “Friends and Spectres”

  1. Very impressive color fade on that sky; reminding me of Japanese wood-block prints. Quite elegant.

  2. Thanks, Jim, and that’s a good spot, my original intention with this one to do something like one of the Japanese prints I’ve been looking at so much recently. The publisher didn’t want anything that looked too flat, however, so the end result has more depth than you’d get from many of those prints.

  3. Two thumbs up; a little more than a touch of the Atkinson Grimshaws (as I’ve always thought evoked that M.R. James’ feeling to a tee) if you don’t mind me saying so, only updated.

  4. Thanks! I like Grimshaw’s paintings very much so this is high praise. I think there’s at least one paperback of James stories which uses a Grimshaw painting as the cover art.

  5. Over at the Swan River Press site in association with Friends and Spectres there is an interesting interview with Robert Lloyd Parry, who provided the introduction. Lots of reasons to purchase this volume not least of which is your artwork, John. I’ve always had this thing about houses and buildings illuminated from within, viewed from outside. The single lighted room in a dark house always puts me in the strangest mood.

  6. Yes, I’ll be linking to Robert’s interview at the weekend.

    I obviously enjoy that window-light effect, although it can be pushed too far, as with Thomas Kinkade and his burning cottages. It’s interesting that it can be welcoming or sinister depending on the context. I’ve been watching a large quantity of film noir recently (BIG post coming soon!), and some of the best examples feature this type of single-source lighting. Cinematographer John Alton was the absolute master of this, anything he photographed is worth seeing.

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